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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Board approves new boundaries for most bar districts

After struggling to provide California attorneys a more equitable voice in the State Bar, the board of governors voted last month to change the makeup of the organization’s nine districts in an admittedly inequitable way. The composition of seven of the districts will change as well as the number of elected seats in four districts. The board will still include 15 elected attorney members.

“You’re always going to get complaints, there’s always going to be a disparity,” said Joseph Chairez, a governor from Costa Mesa who served on a redistricting subcommittee. “We’re operating with a formula created way back when that doesn’t work now.”

The Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Clara county bar associations formally opposed the proposal, which passed by a vote of 13-6. Ventura and San Bernardino bar leaders complained they will now join much larger counties — Orange and San Diego respectively — and argued that their areas, with vastly smaller legal populations and different needs, may never be represented on the bar board.

“The Ventura County legal community differs distinctly from that of Orange County,” wrote Ventura bar associaion President Kendall VanConas. Only a handful of law firms in the county have more than 10 lawyers, she said, and their issues deserve attention that “cannot come from a large county representative.” VanConas also expressed concern that a lawyer from Ventura or Santa Barbara County, also in the new district, will never be elected to the bar board because they are far outnumbered by Orange County.

San Bernardino bar association President Thomas W. Dominick also said a lawyer from his county or Riverside likely will never have a board representative because they have far fewer lawyers than San Diego County — 2,206 in San Bernardino, 2,963 in Riverside and 14,306 in San Diego.

Dominick said the Inland Empire has unique issues with extreme court overcrowding and he also questioned whether “gentlemen’s agreements” among counties to alternate representatives would be honored under the new set-up.

But Michael Tenenbaum, who represents Ventura County, called opponents’ arguments silly and said the notion that lawyers differ from county to county is provincial. “Maybe sex with clients is different in San Bernardino than it is in San Francisco,” he said to laughter. “I have no idea.” He dismissed other concerns, including geographical distances between the counties, and said he opposes any bar association picking its representative on the bar board through “some gentlemen’s agreement (reached) in a smoke-filled room.”

“Let’s not pretend these are somehow the concerns that should motivate us,” Tenenbaum said.

Although several governors were troubled by the complaints from smaller counties, they were far more bothered by the apparent statutory protection enjoyed by District 1, which includes the northernmost counties in the state with the smallest number of lawyers (3,915 or 1.7 percent of the state’s total). The redistricting recommendations were based on a belief that District 1 cannot be changed. Despite objections to that legal analysis, the board opted in the end to accept the subcommittee’s proposal.

Its details:

  • District 1: unchanged
  • District 2: will encompass Sacramento, Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties, losing Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado and Tuolumne
  • District 3: will include Alameda and Contra Costa, and loses San Mateo and Santa Clara and one governor
  • District 4: Marin and San Francisco will be joined by San Mateo
  • District 5: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, San Luis Obispo and Tuolumne join the existing district — Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Mono, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus and Tulare counties
  • District 6: will be Santa Clara County alone, losing Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura
  • District 7: Los Angeles remains intact but loses one of five governors
  • District 8: Orange County is joined by Santa Barbara and Ventura and gains one governor
  • District 9: Imperial and San Diego are joined by Riverside and San Bernardino and gain one governor